Roughly 1.5 million families in South Africa live in 2,700 informal settlements scattered across the country, facing an overall shortage of 2.5 million houses – but architects Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner, along with their research and design teams and collaborating partners (U-TT), are creating innovative solutions to a problem that is only getting more pressing.

Arising from this context, Empower Shack is an interdisciplinary development project directed by U-TT and the local NGO Ikhayalami Development Services, in collaboration with the BT-Section community and associated local and international partners. The ongoing pilot phase is focused on a cluster of 68 houses within the BT-Section of Khayelitsha outside Cape Town. Through innovative design and organizational models, the project aims to develop a comprehensive and sustainable informal settlement upgrading strategy centered on four core components: a two-story housing prototype, participatory spatial planning, ecological landscape management, and integrated livelihoods programming.

Employing the socio-spatial “Blocking Out” process alongside new digital visualization tools and micro-financing, Empower Shack has created an interface between residents, professionals, and the government. “Together, with its partners, U-TT is developing an approach that responds to contemporary social, ecological, and market dynamics, and which will provide incentives for the state to extend tenureship rights. This would create a legally durable foundation for future incremental upgrading, as well as a system that can dovetail with established policy mechanisms.” The group says on their website.

“The physical upgrading of BT-Section will be complete by the end of 2017, at which point a year-long evaluation project will monitor the outcome and plan for future upgrades in the region. In the meantime, the City of Cape Town is supporting the program as a pilot project for potential replication.”

Read more about this innovative approach to urban planning here.